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How to catch tarakihi - Pete Lamb's top tips

May 27, 2020
How to catch tarakihi - Pete Lamb's top tips

If your taste in fish is like mine, tarakihi are arguably the best quality eating fish you can catch in New Zealand virtually all year round, and a crumbed fillet at the Fish’n’Chip shop is commonly made from this species. They can be caught throughout the country but are more prevalent around the Cook Straight, east Cape and South Island, and Bay of Plenty regions than they are further north. Not only are they great eating, they also offer a pretty good tussle on the end of the line. You can catch them off the shore and in the boat anywhere from as shallow as five metres, right down to well over a hundred. Without doubt they are probably my favourite eating fish, so although they only grow to a limited size, they are always more than welcome on board.

A very tasty bin of cod and teri's on one of our charter trips

Find the fish

Tarakihi seem to live and feed right on the edge of a reef system and sometimes out onto the sand a bit. After dark they come into sandy beaches and feed close to shore, so land based anglers stand a good chance of catching them with the right gear.

Most reef structures around the Wellington coastline will hold tarakihi.

It’s just a matter of finding where exactly they are and getting your baits down into them.

They are pretty easy to see on the sounder, and generally present as lots of small chunky bits on and up off the bottom.  They are commonly seen sitting on, or right next to, a reef structure, but do venture out onto the sand.

If you locate a rock in 50-100 metres in the Wellington region, there will more than likely be BIG terakihi holding on it at some stage of the tide, normally an hour or two either side of the turn.  

Heading out to Mana Island. Always a good chance for a feed of tarakihi

Fishing from a boat

Although they will take lures, terakihi are more commonly caught on bait.  They have a small rubbery lipped mouth, and usually take a smaller offering.

Small strips of squid, shellfish, or salted blue mackerel or bonito are favourite baits.

If you can, use fresh bait, the fresher the better for this species. Hook the bait through once through one end and let it hang off the hook. If your baits are bigger than a fingernail, then you’re really reducing your best chance to catch them.  

A berley dispenser right on the bottom when anchored up is very effective. Good quality minced paua gut, kina, bonito, pilchard, cray or crab bodies make the best ground bait.

Ensure the berley pot is weighted enough to get to the bottom, the orange cray snifter pots are good with 2 – 4 big puka sinkers attached and use a strong 4 mm retrieve cord. Give the pot a shake every now and then to get (and keep) the fish biting.


Ledger rigs are favoured for terakihi.  A standard rig with sinker at the bottom looped on, dropper loops or longline knots for droppers, and a loop or swivel on top are fine. You can go fairly light as terakihi have soft mouths and don’t get overly huge.

I like to use 30Lb trace for shallower non snaggy water, but will go up to fifty or even eighty for water that is around a hundred plus metres, where there’s a good chance you may hook something bigger and don’t want it to get away.

I have found recurve hooks the best for lip hooking fish and getting a positive hookup.  

Flasher rigs such as Black Magic terakihi terrors etc, and sleeve swivel traces both work well.

Size – wise, 1/0 recurve flasher rigs have to be one of the best rigs to catch tarakihi, particularly in white or pink colours.

Black Magic Tarakihi Terrors - great flasher rigs in either standard or recurve hook patterns

My favourite charter rig is 2 x #17 or #19 mutsu recurves on 50lb trace for shallow water or in the harbour (15-25mtrs) and 2 x #19 or #21 mutsus on 80lb trace for the 60-100mtr mark, where there’s a good chance of snagging a school puka or decent kingfish.  

Tides around Wellington

On the south coast the outgoing tide runs from the east going to the west, the incoming tide runs from west to east. Sometimes the tide doesn’t do what it's supposed to do or turns early or late. Sometimes you get different tidal flows with particular spots.

Off Karori and island bay the tide can be 1.5 to 2.5 hours early.

On the west coast the incoming tide runs from south to north and the outgoing tide runs from the north going southward. The Wiraka rise tide at Pukerua bay can  be an hour late, the Ohau and Makara tide can be an hour early. The bridge at Mana tide can also be an hour early.  Remember the tide doesn’t always do what it's supposed to do.

Be careful when the tide runs against the wind as it can become twice as rough almost instantaneously.  

Just after the full and new moons the tide is extra-large, and just after the first and last quarter the tides are smaller.

This can have an effect on how much time you have around the turn of the tide to fish and how rough the water can be with wind against tide.

The Brothers - Top of the Sounds and great fishing on a good day

Where to look for tarakihi

The key factor to picking up fish, is finding the edge of a reef or foul, and from there, locating where the tarakihi are feeding or hanging out on a particular day.

You may have to move slightly a couple of times before you get onto the fish but once you do it can be amazing.  Both drifting in the deeper water or anchored up can produce the goods.

Good tarakihi ground can be found, depending where you live, with a bit of research from local fishing stores or on some of the NZ Fishing World fishing reports such as

Finding tarakihi in the Wellington Region

In Wellington, the south end of Mana Island in 30 to 50mtrs is good, but there are plenty of other spots all around the coast from Palliser Bay right around north of Kapiti Island.

In fact, a bin of cod and teris is like bread and butter for Wellington anglers fortunately.

The best way to find spots is downloading the Navionics AU + NZ boating APP.

With the sonar feature activated these maps outline heaps of good reef area worth exploring.

I've marked a couple of good tarakihi spots with blue markers on the left hand pic. The areas where lines are packed tightly together illustrates steep drop offs and banks, and are often worth a fish.

South coast  

For good terakihi ground here, try out the back of Island Bay (40mtrs), Turakerei head (50 - 70mtrs), Airport reef and the edge of the marine reserve (40-45mtrs).

The 100mtr mark behind Five Mile reef and Homes Rock are good XOS teri spots, with puka and kingis on the cards as an added bonus sometimes.

Inner Wellington Harbour  

Falcon shoal (13mtr), east of Ward Island (18mtr), the wreck, Shelly Bay point.

West coast

Vern’s and Hunter’s (70mtrs), south end of Mana (30-50mtrs), and the Makara fence line (25mtrs) are the areas to target.


Tarakihi are a good fight, but not a big fish, so you don’t need heavy tackle.

I like to use five to seven foot rods with a medium or flexible tip. Ratings on the rod range from 6kg up to 15kg depending on what line you are using.

Match these to any reel you like as long as they balance, and it depends on personal preference.

Popular reels like the Daiwa SL30H, Shimano TLD15, Penn Fatham, Tica ST16, Catch JG2000 etc are all good options.  

Braid or nylon

These days many anglers are using braid instead of nylon because it has little or no stretch, is half to a third of the diameter of nylon and it’s got high strength to weight qualities and little drag in deeper water.

When using braid you need a flexible rod tip to act as a shock absorber and also you may need to use a bit heavier line (I use 50lb braid like I do 35lb nylon) than you would if you are using nylon.

Knot strength is not usually as good in braid as it is in nylon but if you double up when tying the knot it’s pretty good.  Another good option is to tie a metre or so of 30lb mono leader to your braid with an FG knot, and then you have a good end to attach to dropper rigs and swivels etc using normal Uni knots.  

Nylon comes in a thin or thick diameter, soft or hard, low or standard stretch, so it pays to spool up with the right kind for the right job.

Thin diameter is good for fishing deep water off the boat or for distance casting off the shore, hard thicker diameter (hard) is better for gnarly rock locations.

Many people start with 10-15kg nylon or 15-24kg braid and then experiment with lighter stuff depending on conditions and the size of fish around.

Dropping down to lighter tackle is sometimes required to catch more cagey fish, as they don't see the line and baits appear more natural.

What is ‘lighter’ tackle?  Breaking strain of about 3 – 6kg is classified as light. Medium tackle (6 – 10kg). Heavy tackle for big fishing rough ground is 10 – 15kg or even heavier.  


There are two main styles of hook used for bagging teris.

The self-setting hook and the striking hook.

Recurve, circle or mutsu hooks are all self-setting and normally hook the fish in the corner of the mouth. The other style of hook is the beak, octopus or suicide hook.

Sometimes these hooks will gut or gill hook a fish, especially with a two hook rig. For smaller tarakihi I use a 1/0 or 2/0 recurve hook and for bigger fish a 3 - 4/o recurve (or #17 - #19 mutsu).

Sinkers are a necessary terminal anchor that have to be as big as they need to be to beat depth and current. They can range in size from 2oz to 20oz depending on how much tide is running, and it always pays to get away with the smallest one you can to get to, and stay on, the bottom.

An average weight for 15-30 mtrs on the coast is 10oz and in the harbour around 4oz. When the tide picks up you just change up to a heavier sinker.  

Soft baits

Contrary to some beliefs, terakihi are aggressive feeders and actually love softbaits, but only small ones!

One really effective pattern is the nice little ½ to 1 inch GULP mullet or Zman scented Streakz curly tail.

Little is the trick with soft baits

Artificial roe can be good, and sometimes bits of old GULP softbaits that have been bitten off by other fish can work a treat.

To fish these down deeper, they are often best threaded onto a ledger rig or rigged like a mini sabiki rig using a small 1/0 - ¼ or 1/8oz jighead.  


Generally, you will get better tarakihi fishing when at anchor. However, sometimes anchoring is a bit of a struggle, particularly in the deeper water (70-100mtrs) and it may be better to drift fish.

If there is too much tide running or wind blowing, then drifting can be the way to go.  Start your drift up current or wind from the fishing spot, drop your lines down and keep in touch with the bottom by frequently letting out line. Once you have passed the spot or stop getting bites, wind up, reposition the boat and try again.

Sometimes running a sea anchor (parachute) or reversing into the wind will slow the drift down and help you catch more fish.


Anchoring can be tricky when you start your boating career, but it’s worthwhile and safe if you can learn to do it correctly.

Firstly, pick the right anchor for the job - kewene for rock/sand, danforth for sand, grapnel for reef.

You need approximately the same length of chain as your length of boat - 4mm chain, 6mm rope, 6mm grapnel for a 2.5 to 3.5mtr boat - 6mm chain, 8mm rope, 8mm grapnel for a 3.5 - 5mtr boat - 8mm chain, 10mm rope, 10mm grapnel for a 5 to 7mtr boat - 12mm to 16mm chain and rope with a big plough or kewene.

For a seven metre to fifteen metre boat, it's advisable to have twice the anchor rope than the depth you are trying to anchor up in.

Survey the area you think the fish are in (normally on the edge of a reef), go up current of the mark and deploy the anchor.  

When it holds tight, dispatch the berley bomb on a separate 4 or 6mm rope, weighted to get it to the bottom.

You can use an ‘easy lift anchor clip system’ when retrieving the anchor, that utilises a sliding buoy.

Be careful anchoring up in windy or tidal conditions.

A Grapnel is the best anchor for hooking into the reef. It bends out if it gets stuck, and the Danforth is the perfect sand anchor.

Boat techniques and seven top tips  

1) Keep it tight to the bottom. Make sure you can feel your sinker bouncing. However, sometimes a couple of winds up off the bottom may be necessary to catch the fish if there are too many ‘picker’ fish hard on the deck.

2) If you are not catching fish, try a smaller hook and lighter trace.

3) Strike or wind fast to set the hook when you get a good bite, they are quick.

4) Use good berley, at turn of tide.  Nice fresh baits will also help you catch more fish.

5) Net a big fish rather than see it fall off the hook at the boat.

6) Fish somewhere comfortable where everyone on board is happy. It’s a lot easier to catch them while anchored, but you must be in the right spot.  Even if it’s a pain, move to get it right.

7) Drifting is the best option when fishing a hundred metres plus

Land based on a lovely Wellington day. A bit of a wait for dark when the bite is usually better

Land based techniques

Most of the tarakihi get caught off the shore after dark or around the turn of light.

These fish come exploring into sandy bays, particularly if there’s a bit of reef structure or a weed bank as well.

You don’t necessarily need a super long cast depending on where the weed banks and reefs are.

The important things are terminal tackle: using small hooks, and good quality bait like mussel, prawn, squid or skipjack tuna fillet.

A ledger rig is the best option and they hit hard often hooking themselves. Most anglers use a 12-14ft rod with 6-10kg nylon or 30lb braid to maximise casting efficiency.

Along some of the sandy bays down the south coast, the terakihi will come in really close.

Good places to fish: Mahanga bay, Shelly Bay point, Longbeach, Karori stream beach, Karori light beach, Ohau, Opau and Makara beach, Boom and Armchair rock.

Sugarloaf Bay during high tide can often be a good time on a beach, but generally low tide is the preferred time to fish beaches such as the southern end of Makara beach and other similar rocky outcrops.

The author trying his luck off the shore

Long beach (around from Red Rocks) is a good shore-based tarakihi spot.  Using short casts, small hooks and throwing handfuls of berley out every so often gives you the best chance of scoring. If you use mussel or prawn tied on with cotton, you’ve got a good chance of a blue moki here as well.

Tarakihi as a sustainable species are in the high risk department as they are targeted heavily for commercial use.

We always like to take enough for a feed when we have a charter operating and people to satisfy, but we like to limit catches where we can so that this great fish stays around in good numbers.

Good luck and get the egg and breadcrumbs ready.  

© Copyright 2020 Pete Lamb Fishing Ltd. Except for entry into the purchasers personal GPS or navigation system no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the publisher.

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